August 28th, 2019

Encouragement for Online Learners

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Student watches course online and laughs at the content

Prior to every course, faculty should consider how they can connect with their students. Building rapport with students must be intentional and consistent (Glazier, 2016). Merely copying and pasting the course content into a learning management system cannot be the extent of online course development.

Our role as faculty must extend beyond grading assignments but include verbal and written encouragement, which is vital for the academic and personal development of students (Lowe, 2005). Encouragement can come in many forms such as positive feedback on assignments, emails, phone calls, and video messages.

To encourage online learners, faculty can utilize a video technique called “Midweek Motivation,” which consists of creating short videos that can be used to help students persevere through any academic and personal challenge they may be experiencing. The video topics are unlimited, but in my experience I have shared professional challenges I have overcome and funny stories.

One midweek motivation was about my youngest son, who was five months old at the time. He had soiled his pamper and the aroma was overwhelming. However, his smile and laughter were contagious. As I dreaded changing his pamper, I couldn’t help but see the irony of the situation. Here he is sitting in a messy situation, but he was still smiling and laughing. Even in unpleasant circumstances, our attitude makes a difference.

Sharing stories with students can help create a bridge that often doesn’t develop automatically because of the geographical distance between the instructor and students. The level of transparency may vary among faculty, but a midweek video can open a door for fruitful conversations during virtual office hours. In addition, the lessons shared in the videos can create opportunities to mentor students as they juggle their academic and personal responsibilities. I have found that the midweek motivation videos help foster authenticity, creativity, and community in my online courses.

Authenticity

Students can see my picture but when they get to hear my voice and see my body language it helps remove the artificial presence that distance courses can create. According to Kember (1995), “Even a few friendly words can mean that students will be prepared to contact a person at some later time as the need arises” (p. 204). The connection formed between faculty and students can help students persist, particularly when they feel like they have someone they can connect with. Lowe (2005) describes relational support as “the more affective dimension of the learning process wherein we encourage, motivate, and nurture students” (p. 4). The video helps make me relatable, and my transparency allows the students to know that I care about them. Authenticity sends a message that you are knowledgeable about the course content and that the student can trust you to teach them.

Creativity

Technology allows faculty to diversify their instructional techniques to engage students (Dixson, 2010). Since the attention span of students must be considered, the weekly videos should be brief. I recommend that the videos be no more than five minutes in length. Faculty can add creativity to their courses by creating a welcome video (Brinthaupt, Fisher, Gardner, Raffo, and Woodard, 2011) using YouTube, Vimeo, or Powtoon. The video can include family pictures, vacations, hobbies, favorite mementos, and other memorable events. In addition, the faculty profile embedded in our courses can be presented as a video or digital storyboard. The video can include personal elements that capture who you are as a person that a CV or written biography cannot reveal.

Community

While the midweek motivation videos are not a course assignment, students often utilize the discussion forum in our LMS to share what they gleaned from the video, encourage other students, share struggles, and offer words of wisdom to empower one another. According to Moore (2014), “a sense of community allows students to feel connected not only to their instructors and classmates but also to the content itself” (p. 20).

Overall, the end of course evaluations revealed that the midweek motivation videos were effective and an aspect of the course that students looked forward to each week. One student remarked, “He knows how to connect with the students and how to relate to us and give us personal experiences in his own life that help us relate to him and better understand his method.” Although fostering authentic relationships can be a challenge in any course, I have found that the midweek motivation videos have helped foster a support system that is necessary for student success.

As distance education continues to evolve, teaching online courses is a craft. As we strive to connect with our students, we cannot forget the power of encouragement. The priority of teaching the content remains but we must allow our life experiences to intersect with the course content. Since learning should be fun, the use of midweek motivation videos can be therapeutic. Authenticity and creativity can help foster a supportive learning community when teaching online courses. By incorporating encouragement in our courses, we can make meaningful connections with our students and our students can connect with one another.

References

Brinthaupt, T. M., Fisher, L. S., Gardner, J. G., Raffo, D. M., and Woodard, J. B. (2011). “What the Best Online Teachers Should Do.” Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 7(4): 515–524.

Dixson, M. D. (2010). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1–13.

Glazier, R. A. (2016). Building rapport to improve retention and success in online classes. Journal of Political Science Education, 12(4), 437-456.

Kember, David (1995). Open learning courses for adults: A model of student progress. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Lowe, S. D. (2005). Responding to learner needs in distance education: Providing academic and relational support (PARS). In Making distance education work: Understanding learning and learners at a distance, ed. S. J. Levin, 73–87. Okemos, MI: Learners Association.net.

Moore, R. L. (2014). Importance of developing community in distance education courses. TechTrends, 58(2), 20-24.

Bio:Dr. Jeremiah E. Shipp is an adjunct professor in the John Wesley School of Leadership at Piedmont International University in Winston-Salem, NC. Dr. Shipp teaches online courses for graduate and doctoral students who are leaders in various organizational contexts. After fifteen years in the information systems industry, he transitioned into higher education where he helps leaders thrive in their field of service.